This is the transcript of a video interview produced and directed by Michael O'Callaghan at the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development (the Rio+10 Conference) in Johannesburg, in 2002.
Full transcript (365 words, slightly edited for clarity).
© 2002-2019 Global Vision Foundation.
At the time of this interview, Barry Coates was the Director of World Development Movement, a London-based NGO which campaigns with an international network of partners to tackle the root causes of poverty, by lobbying governments and companies to change the policies that keep people poor. He is now a boardmember of the Global Campaign for Climate Action involving national and global organisations collaborating to mobilise civil society and galvanise public opinion in support of transformational change and rapid action to save the planet from dangerous levels of climate change.

The Global Campaign for Climate Action manages the TckTckTck campaign representing hundreds of millions of people united by a desire to see a strong global deal on climate change. Barry is also the Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand.
Ten years after the first Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in 1992, how do you feel about this Rio+10 conference?

Politicians started the summit with a process of lowering everyone's expectations about what could be achieved. And the expectations, by the end, ended up even far lower than that. There was substantially nothing that was achieved that would make a tangible difference to people - particularly the poor in the world - or the environment.

What we had was a series of rather re-cycled words from other agreements that they just repeated. And most of the effort from NGOs and civil society lobbying here was to try and prevent moves backwards. The trade agenda completely dominated the agenda. And the World Trade Organisation agreements were allowed to completely trump sustainable development.

So what we had is essentially the World Trade Organisation in a superior position to the United Nations, and that's exactly the wrong way around! We should be insisting that trade serves the aims of sustainable development, rather than the other way round

What do you think can be done practically now, for NGOs and governments to move ahead?

There are massive campaigns, social movements in countries around the world against liberalisation and globalisation. Before any more international summits can take place, we need these campaigns to convince governments to act in the interests of their people, in the interest of the planet, rather than the self-interest of the corporations in their country, and rather than playing these petty political games that have completely marred this World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Do you think that citizens and civil society have real power and ability to make a difference?

I think the power has to be with the citizens and civil society. What we've seen here is essentially governments colluding with big business to follow an agenda which gives overt power to big business to deliver water supplies to the poor through privatisation, to deliver electricity, telecommunications etc. That's what a lot of these partnership agreements that have been announced here have been all about. And instead, civil society movements need to re-claim those services so that they are made publicly accountable and so that we get affordable essential services for the poor.